SECTION 4: An Introduction to Book Repair
Defining Book Repair
Selecting Tools, Equipment & Supplies
Books are meant to be handled, but their very use causes dam-age from wear and tear. Poor storage conditions and
acidic paper also contribute to their deterioration. Even new publications printed on acid-free paper fall apart
because of poor quality adhesive bindings. Misguided repair has also damaged books. Stiff repair tapes, yellowed
cellophane tapes, over-trimming and poor rebinding have all destroyed original paper and bindings. For
libraries, shrinking budgets for replacement and increased demand for access brought on by use of online
catalogs only compound the problem. Fortunately, alternatives now exist.
The goal of this section is to provide background information for those about to begin or improve the repair of
their book collections. Although it is oriented toward librarians setting up basic repair programs, others will
also find it useful. Collectors and private individuals need the same basic tools, supplies, equipment, and
manuals—even if working on a small scale.
The treatment of rare books, leather bindings, and special collections material is outside the scope of this
section. It is advisable to consult a professional bookbinder or book conservator if your collections include
these materials. Section 5: Resources, provides contact information for the Guild of Book Workers, whose
Membership Directory lists bookbinders by geographic regions, and the American Institute for Conservation, which
provides a free referral service to conservators in your area. See Section 1, Case Study VII, for information on
proper storage and handling of rare books and bound materials.
The information in this section reflects our current knowledge regarding the setup of a book repair program. It
will be revised as new information and products become available. Unless other-wise noted, all of the items
illustrated in this section are available from Gaylord. Call 1-800-448-6160 for a free catalog or visit us
online at Gaylord.com.
Defining Book Repair
Book repair is remedial. It corrects damage that has occurred because of poor manufacture, use, abuse, and/or
aging. For the purposes of this publication, we are restricting its definition to the repair of bindings and
textblocks of modern books in general collections. These are typically case bindings* with covers made of cloth
or paper over boards.
PARTS OF A BOOK
A typical case bound book has two components:
- The Case, made up of front and back boards (covers) and a stiff spine liner (spine inlay), covered
by cloth or sturdy paper.
- The Textblock (contents), made up of pages sewn or glued together. A folded sheet of paper
(endpaper) is glued to the shoulder of the first and last page of the textblock. The spine is lined with an
open weave cloth (super) that extends onto the endpapers. The spine is strengthened further with a paper
lining. The textblock is attached to the case by gluing the endpaper and super to the boards. The spine
inlay is not glued to the spine lining of the textblock. This creates a hollow that allows the binding to
flex and open easily. The hinge area (called the joint on the outside of the case) takes most of the strain
of use and is typically the first area to show signs of damage.
TYPES OF BOOK DAMAGE
Damage occurs most often in three areas: the textblock (torn or soiled pages, detached pages, missing pages), the
case (warped, soiled or abraded covers; torn headcaps, detached spines), and the attachment of textblock to the
case (loose hinges, broken hinges, detached covers). One book can have several types of damage.
SELECTING CANDIDATES FOR REPAIR
Book repair should be an integral part of library operations. To make decision-making as efficient as possible,
establish routines for sorting and evaluating damaged books. The following are general guidelines. Each library
will set its own criteria and assign staffing responsibilities. Collectors will also benefit from seeing the
scope—and limitations—of book repair. Many of the general principles outlined below apply when
selecting books for purchase or for repair.
Catch damage early. Work with staff to identify volumes with minor damage such as loose pages or
loose hinges before they become major problems. It takes less time and money to do a minor repair than a more
extensive repair. Encourage patrons to note damage when an item is returned rather than do it themselves. "Homemade"
repairs are usually damaging and difficult to reverse.
Sort damaged books into categories:
- Books to be repaired—Volumes with torn or loose pages, worn spines and covers, loose hinges, detached
covers, or other minor damage. The paper should be flexible and not brittle.
- Books to be rebound by the library binder—Volumes with a larger number of detached pages, badly
damaged covers, and major damage that cannot be repaired in the library. The selection of books for
rebinding depends upon local factors such as budget and the importance of the book to the collection. Only
books with flexible paper can be rebound.
- Books to be replaced or reformatted—Volumes that are brittle, yellowed, or have extensive losses.
Depending upon library policy and availability, these may be replaced with a new copy, reprint, microfilm,
or preservation photocopy.
- Books to be discarded—Volumes that do not warrant the time or expense to repair or rebind. These may
include books with missing pages, out-of-date information, or lack of relevance to the collection.
- Books to be reviewed for conservation or boxing—If a volume has historic, monetary, or artifactual
value, set it aside for treatment by a conservator or hand bookbinder. Some libraries have established a
date cut-off—1900 for example—for review by a bibliographer before treatment. It is better to
box or wrap a valuable volume than treat it incorrectly. See Section 1, Case Study VII, for further
information on storage of rare books and bound materials.
Batch candidates for repair. Once the damaged books have been identified, sort them into the
categories of repair.
Select repair materials that are chemically stable and non-damaging. Avoid materials such as
acidic papers and book repair tapes. For examples of acceptable materials, see the Supplies section.
Use techniques that are structurally sound. Consult the manuals on page 60 and obtain training
to execute repairs that will contribute to the long-term stability and preservation of your collection.
Work systematically. Most manuals recommend working on 5–10 volumes at a time for maximum
efficiency. Precutting supplies will expedite this process. Examine the textblock and do any paper mends before
proceeding to the binding.
Maintain quality control. Work should be neat, accurate, and sound. Book repair is no place for
sloppy craftsmanship. When new staff are assigned to repair, they should be trained by an experienced person and
given manuals for reference. Their work should be reviewed periodically to be certain they understand both
principles and techniques of book repair.
SETTING UP A WORKSPACE
If you anticipate doing repair on a regular basis, set aside a designated area with ample space for both work and
storage. This space should provide access to a sink, adequate ventilation, and good lighting. Before investing
in large equipment such as a cutter or presses, you should have a clear idea of the type of work that you will
be doing, both now and in the future. Visit other workshops that have comparable programs.
Workbench or Tables
Each person should have a workbench equivalent to the size of a large desk (21/2 x 6 ft.). The best height is
between 36 and 40 inches so that the person can work comfortably while standing. Low-cost alternatives are a
work table raised on wooden blocks, provided the table is sturdy and stable. The work surface should be easy to
clean; formica or a wood surface treated with polyurethane are good choices. It is convenient to have a set of
shelves beneath the bench to hold paper and other materials.
Stools or Chairs
Stools or chairs should be available for each worker. They should be 6-12" lower than the bench. Wooden
stools are the least expensive alternative, but you may want to purchase a cushioned chair with back support if
the person is to work for long periods of time.
Good lighting is essential for doing book repair. A high intensity lamp provides task lighting to supplement
overhead lighting. Be sure to purchase a model that uses a minimum of 100 watts to give strong lighting.
You will need storage for repair materials and supplies. Itemize the amounts and sizes of paper, board, and cloth
that you will be using and plan accordingly. Open metal shelving is an inexpensive alter-native, but you may
want to use flat files (map cases) to protect sheets of Japanese paper or endpaper stock. Peg boards, jars,
shelves, containers can all be used to keep tools close at hand. The manuals by Greenfield and Lavender (page
60) contain good illustrations of workbenches and storage units.
Selecting Tools, Equipment & Supplies
The following tools are recommended for general use in book repair. You may need additional tools for specialized
treatments. You will find these listed in the manuals that describe the treatments.
Awl (AWL) : small, sharp tool; used for making holes when sewing in pamphlet
bindings or preparing end-papers and signatures for sewing.
Bone Folder: smooth, flat tool with rounded or pointed ends; used to crease paper, to rub down
paper and cloth after gluing, and to set the joints when repairing bindings.
- Glue brushes—round bristle glue brushes for applying adhesive to broad areas.
- Small artist's brushes—for mending paper and hinging, applying adhesive in small places.
- Dusting brush—to clean off work surfaces.
Containers: sturdy plastic containers in a range of sizes to hold tools, water; with lids to
hold small quantities of adhesives
- Scalpel, mat knife or other cutting implements—for trimming paper or cutting materials. Have
extra blades on hand. A dull cutting tool can be dangerous and difficult to use.
- Utility knife—useful for cleaning the backs of spines.
- Self-healing Cutting Mat—provides a grid surface for cutting paper; particularly useful
trimming endpapers on the book where you cannot use a paper cutter. Does not dull the blades of cut-ting
Hammer: a special bookbinder's hammer, used with a backing press to shape the spines of the
textblock prior to binding.
Microspatula (MIC) : a useful tool for lifting tape and getting adhesive into
Needles: large eyed needles (No. 3 darning needle or No. 6 crewel needles are useful sizes) for
sewing pamphlets into binders and for sewing signatures.
Press Boards: wooden boards are needed for pressing material underweight. These may be hardwood,
plywood, or tempered masonite, sanded and finished with polyurethane. Useful sizes are 9 x 12" and 6 x 9".
- Metal edged press boards—wooden boards with metal edges on the long side, projecting 1/16".
- Plexiglas rods or No. 4 or 5 knitting needles—for applying adhesive when tightening hinges or
pressing hinges with boards.
Rulers and Straight Edges:
- Rulers—used for measuring.
- Metal straight edges—for cutting with scalpels or knives, and for scoring with a bone folder.
- T-Squares and Triangles—for cutting materials where right angles are required.
Shears: good quality, accurate shears and scissors in a range of sizes are essential.
- Heavy shears for cutting lightweight board and cloth.
- Medium sized scissors for cutting paper.
- Smaller scissors for reaching narrow spaces.
Tacking Iron: small, light-weight iron, thermostatically controlled; used to apply heat-set
tissue or dry mends.
- Bricks wrapped in heavy paper or binders cloth.
- Bean bags or leather/cloth weights filled with shot.
- Jars filled with shot or pennies, paperweights.
- Plexiglas covered lead weights.
Book Presses: One of the guiding principles of book repair is to get good adhesion between the
hinge of the textblock and the joint of the case. If budgets are limited, you may begin with boards, bricks, and
knitting needles or Plexiglas rods. However, metal-edged boards are a more efficient and effective way of
setting the joints. They may be used with weights or with book presses. The Gaylord press is a low cost
alternative. If you rebind large numbers of books, a heavy metal book press and press boards will improve the
quality and efficiency of your work.
Casing Press: As repair operations expand, you may want to add Gaylord's casing press. The press
itself can be attached to the workbench and used as a book press to set the joints of bindings after repair.
Assembled in its stand with beveled boards, it becomes a backing press, a versatile machine for holding the
textblock when cleaning or backing/ reshaping spines, or doing finish work.
Board Shear or Heavy-duty Cutter: A cutting mat and a sharp table model paper cutter will be
adequate for simple mending and repair. However, if you want to do rebinding or make boxes—which requires
frequent cutting of heavy board—you will need a heavy cutter. A board shear, or heavy-duty cutter, is a
major financial investment and requires substantial space in the workshop. However, it is also one of your most
important purchases because a sharp, accurate cutter will improve the quality and speed of work. It is important
that the cutter be able to cut board and paper; that the blade be long enough to cut most common lengths of
materials; that it have a clamping bar to hold materials being cut; and have scales for accurate measuring.
Board shears are best for a professional bindery. Heavy-duty table models can cut lightweight board and are less
expensive than floor models. Gaylord carries book presses and a heavy-duty table model cutter. For vendors of
board shears, large presses, and other heavy bookbinding equipment, consult the Supplies Directory of the Guild
of Book Workers (Section 5, Resources). It is sometimes possible to find used equipment advertised in the
Newsletter of the Guild of Book Workers.
The choice of materials for repair is critical. They should be acid-free, chemically stable, and durable. Labor
is the most expensive cost of repair so it is not cost effective to save money on supplies if it results in
repairs that fall apart because of stiff, brittle adhesives or papers and tapes that turn yellow and stain. The
following are the most common supplies used in basic book and paper repair. You may find more specialized
supplies listed in manuals that describe specific treatments.
Adhesives: used to bond paper, board, cloth, and the book together during repair. Three types of
adhesives are commonly used: starch paste and methylcellulose for paper repair because of their reversibility,
and PVA for binding repair because of its flexibility and strength.
- Starch Paste—Wheat starch (WS) makes a smooth, strong paste. It is made by cooking, though a
pre-cooked wheat paste is also available. Both have a limited shelf life after preparation.
- Methylcellulose—Methylcellulose is easily made by mixing powder with water. When paper repair
is not done often, it is a good alternative to starch paste because it has a long shelf life.
- PVA adhesive—Polyvinyl acetate is a white synthetic resin that dries to a thin, clear,
flexible film. It is water-based and is used in book-binding where reversibility is not important.
Board: Several kinds of board are used when doing book repair. Its thickness is measured in
points, which correspond to mils or thousandths of an inch. For example, the blue/grey barrier board used for
phase boxes is 60-pts. or .060 inches thick. Board should be acid-free. Be certain that your cutter can handle
the size and thickness of the board that you choose.
- Lightweight folder stock—7-pt. folder stock is used for spine inlays and map pockets in the
backs of books.
- Folder stock—10-pt. and 20-pt. folder stock makes lightweight folders and enclosures, while
40-pt. stock is used for enclosures. 60-pt. stock can be used for the covers of pamphlet binders and phase
- Binders board—Gray Davey Board is the traditional board used by binders. An acid-free version
is now available in thicknesses from .067 for small books and .082 for standard sized books to .098 for
- Cambric—A closely woven white, starch-filled linen cloth used for hinges and spine linings.
- Super—A loosely woven cloth used to line the backs of spines.
- Bookcloth—A generic term for the woven materials used to cover the case of books. It is
typically made of cotton with starch and pigment fillers and an acrylic surface coating. Gaylord carries
four colors in convenient 2", 3" and 4" rolls for book repair. These cloths, along with a
wide range of linens and fine paper-backed cloths, are available by the yard from vendors specializing in
bookbinding supplies (see the Guild of Book Workers Supply Directory, page 56) The finer cloths are not
appropriate for circulating library books because they become soiled easily.
- Vinyl erasers such as Magic Rub and Mars Staedtler erasers are recommended because they leave less
residue on the paper.
- Document cleaning pads of powdered eraser are even gentler.
- Endpaper stock—Papers selected for endpapers should be acid-free, buffered, and durable.
Several colors are desirable: white for modern books, cream or beige to match the texts of older books. If
precut sheets are available, select a size that fits your cutter blade.
- Japanese paper—Traditional handmade Japanese papers are excellent for repair because their
long fibers provide a strong, yet flexible join. They come in a range of shades and weights. Libraries
typically use medium weight for guarding signatures and lightweight for mending paper.
- Heat-set tissue—This fine paper is coated on one side with an acrylic adhesive that adheres
when heat is applied with a tacking iron. Heat-set tissue is used for mending tears and consolidating
shattered edges of paper, especially for moisture-sensitive paper that cannot withstand the application of a
Other papers are also needed for repair operations:
- Blotting paper—for drying and flattening paper
- Silicone release paper—for use with a tacking iron when applying heat-set tissue.
- Scrap paper—for all operations. Avoid fresh newsprint or any other paper with printing or
writing that may offset onto your work.
- Wax paper—as a barrier prevents adhesive from sticking to adjacent surfaces while work dries.
Gaylord makes a special wax paper for book repair.
Tape: Although the range of tapes has increased dramatically with the development of synthetic
materials and more stable acrylic adhesives, it is best to consider all tapes to be permanent. Once applied,
tape is difficult or impossible to remove. Filmoplast tapes are considered acceptable for some types of paper
repair. Filmoplast P (TP) has a lightweight, acid-free paper carrier with a stable adhesive. However, even it
should not be used on rare books, documents, or archival materials with artifactual value. Some research
libraries use Japanese paper and starch paste for nearly all their paper mending, even on circulating
collections. However, this requires a trained staff.
Thread: High quality linen thread should be used for sewing because of its strength. Medium
weight is the most versatile, while heavier weight thread is used to sew pamphlets.